December 10, 2019 | Read more »
Lázaro González, Suriana (Sury) González & Noé Trujillo are employed with the Baptist Seminary of Mexico in Mexico City. Lázaro is a retired professor who still works part time. Sury is in charge of the administration for the seminary and also runs the Open Education program that supports adults needing to finish their secondary education. Noé is a current professor with the Seminary, and he is also in charge of its academic programs.
BPFNA: What brings you here this week, and what are your expectations and hopes?
Lázaro González (LG): One of the reasons we’re here is because the leadership of the organization. Some people we work with have some representation with BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz, mainly Javier Ulloa. Personally, I’ve never attended a BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz meeting before, and I was very interested in what it would be like. I’m here to learn and get to know who BPFNA people are and what they’re about.
Sury González (SG): We also do some work through the Baptist Seminary called “The Culture of Peace.” It’s very much in our interests to network together with other organizations who are working in favor of peace.
Noé Trujillo (NT): We wanted to see how we might collaborate as the Baptist Seminary with BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz in larger ways and to see if there are elements of the work that we’re doing on behalf of Indigenous populations here that resonate with BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz as well as things from the organization that we can support going forward.
BPFNA: What are your roles within the Baptist Seminary?
LG: I am an Indigenous person from the state of Oaxaca. I have been a professor for 38 years at the Seminary. I was a student there first. Even though I’m retired I continue to teach there. It’s the institution that changed my life; that evangelized me and made me a happy pastor. A lot of times we hear about pastors who at the end of their careers are old and frustrated. The education I received at the seminary was liberating, and it helped me to self-realization as a pastor; to know who I am to such a degree that I knew I would finish my life as part of the church.
Although I’m retired, I continue working and not just part time, but what feels full-time, I’m supporting CICEM, which is the ecclesiastical base of the Seminary, which is the Indigenous Council of Evangelical Churches of Mexico.
SG: I am the daughter of Lázaro. I have Zapotec blood from him. My mother also was a professor at the Seminary, and she was Nahuatl so I have Nahuatl blood as well. I was practically born in the Baptist Seminary. My calling is there. I studies Math and I’m in charge of the Administrative area of the Seminary. I also coordinate the Open Education program, which is a program that supports church members in the communities to finish their secular education (junior high and high school). There are lot of adults in these churches who were never able to finish their formal education in school. The Seminary helps them to be able to finish those studies. It’s also a prerequisite to go to the Seminary or any other University.
NT: I am also Nahuatl and married to Suri. I am a former student of the Seminary in Mexico City, and a professor there now. I am in charge of the academic programs at the Seminary.
BPFNA: What are some of the projects you are working on through the Seminary?
LG: I’m working in an area around Mexico City in an area that’s called Chimalhuacán*. The majority of the people there are Indigenous migrants who have come from all throughout the small towns of the provinces to come into the city. They’ve been located or found themselves on the periphery of the city. I work with 12 of the pentecostal churches in this area which have formed an alliance. In addition to the work with those churches we have two centers of formation. They’re schools that are extensions of the Baptist Seminary. These two churches, both of the pastors are alumni of the Baptist Seminary. They’re helping and serving to make sure the local churches and communities have the pedagogical tools that they need. They’re learning together, setting their own agenda. The work they do is in accompaniment/alongside Indigenous groups in Mexico City. Mexico City is the city that houses the large majority of the indigenous population of Mexico.
Chimalhuacán is one of the places on the outside of the city of Mexico. It’s one of the trash dumps for the city. And there’s a huge population of people who live on the trash dumps themselves. They’re sorting through and collecting and living off of what they find in the trash. It’s very polluted by the trash that’s there and also because of the black water/waste water that’s flowing from Mexico City to the outskirts. It’s not in drainage systems, it’s in open canals.
NT: In 2013 the Seminary lost two if its buildings. Because of that we started a new program and redesigned completely the Biblical Theological Education at the seminary. It’s a program that works with CICEM churches and also several churches in Chimalhuacán and Tlaxcala, which aren’t part of CICEM but are collaborating with the seminary.
We’re hoping this program can begin a brand new epoch in the life of the seminary itself, and that in two years we’ll have students at the Baptist Seminary doing their bachelors degrees in theology from this base of churches. We’re also looking to find scholarships and are dedicated to do this.
NT: The Seminary doesn’t only offer biblical, pastoral, theological programs. It also provides support and promotes community development programs. These are projects that are existing among the CICEM churches. That’s where one called the chicken project is taking place that provides families with better nutrition and an economic income so they can sustain themselves better. We’re also thinking of working with rabbits, pigs, and family gardens so that the people of our churches can have vegetables to have better nutrition. This is part of the work of the Seminary to promote these programs for family and community development to help the families and churches realize their full potential.
LG: We teach that the Gospel isn’t just religion; it’s Good News. It’s holistic and complete.
BPFNA: Have there been challenges and realizations in switching to this new model?
LG: Yesterday I went to a workshop called “Platform for Communal Learning.” And that’s what we’re doing right now at the Seminary - creating communities of learning outside of the institution itself; outside of the buildings and structures. The reason for this is the bureaucratization of these theological institutions. The institutions are looking for individuals as students, and our new model as a Seminary, we’re looking for communities. We don’t have a crisis of finding students because we have a lot of churches asking if they can come and help form the ecumenical learning group. It’s hard for us to meet all the needs that are coming to us because we don’t have enough professors.
I give thanks to God for the economic crisis we suffered in the seminary that made us entirely replant our model from personalized education to a model of community and learning together. Now we have 84 students, and we never had that many at the Seminary. We didn’t have space or a way to take care of all their needs. Now the work we have to do is motivation and to help support these learning communities.
SG: We also had to recreate the entire coursework to fit into this new model.
NT: The language of the courses and the themes have to be in accord with the needs of the communities themselves so that it can be understood by them and they can reflect upon the content to understand it in their context. This is not for the benefit of the Seminary, but for the explicit benefit of the church and community.
LG: Our great hope is to create all the coursework and educational materials in these Indigenous languages. We have two linguistic purposes in our education: 1. To be able to teach Spanish to those who need to learn 2. But also that they never lose their Indigenous identity. This is a great challenge for us - to be able to create this coursework in their own languages. One of the objectives of the association of the Indigenous churches is that they’re able to practice their own languages and keep them alive. Because this is what gives them identity.
I can tell you I’m Zapotec. People ask me, “well can you speak Zapoteco?” Thanks be to God that I do speak Zapoteco, but those who can’t lose some of their identity. And that’s our challenge - to be able to provide this material in these Indigenous languages to keep Indigenous identities alive. But we need personnel and resources for that.
BPFNA: What would you like to see happen with theological education in Mexico, particularly in relation to Indigenous communities?
LG: We work in five different states around Mexico with seven different Indigenous peoples. There are 68 language groups in Mexico and we work with 7. And there are 364 different dialects in total. The Seminary is only doing a tiny bit of the work. Just working with seven groups, and there are 68 of these. We would hope that other theological institutions would realize this and see the need and do something about it - to work alongside us with this. There is no other theological institution - Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist - that does anything like what we’re doing from a perspective of interculturality. They might do work in those communities but they do it from a perspective of transculturality, and that destroys Indigenous communities and identities.
NT: It’s not just about us being able to value ourselves in our Indigenous identities, but it’s also with the institutions and the world around us; the messages they send and the value they put on us. I have experienced the discrimination, living in my own flesh and blood, as an Indigenous person in Mexico City. I was accompanying a lawyer from one of our churches. The lawyer was inside a very luxurious restaurant and I arrived to meet the lawyer inside. But in the doorway there was somebody who wouldn’t allow me to enter because I was dressed very humbly, and with my appearance it’s clear that I’m Indigenous. I said “but I have a meeting inside,” and they would not let me. It was when I mentioned the lawyer’s name that the person at the door went inside to go find the lawyer. The lawyer had to leave the table and come to the door just for me to be able to go inside.
BPFNA: How could BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz support your work?
LG: We would love for the Indigenous people and the CICEM churches to be able to become part of BPFNA. We would love to be able to have an Indigenous sector of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz.
BPFNA: What steps would you like to see taken in order to make this happen?
LG: By allowing us to do this as an indigenous sector, we could meet and choose a representative who has the "voice" of the people and invite them to share their voice with BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz.
SG: It would be very important for future conferences to have space for Indigenous groups to come together and talk about things that are of importance to us. We also need to make sure that there are Indigenous participants in our camps. BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz needs more representation and participation from Indigenous peoples because, for us, it is even a question of being able to decide what it means to be ‘clothed’ better and what that looks like and how it takes place. It’s a discussion we need to have. We had the opportunity to be here with people who really need to be embraced and clothed, so we need to ask ‘What would that mean for you?’”
LG: This theme of clothing ourselves with hope is something that speaks to us about how we clothe ourselves in our own communities and how desperate a need that is for us.
LG: This idea of a camp is an idea of recreation. This area is perfect to come and relax and rest. It would be good if the meetings of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz could allow more time for reflection and commitment. To be able to leave with definite commitments not just a spiritual retreat, not just a week of vacation, nice hymns, great Bible studies - but to leave here being able to say, “what are our commitments that we’re making?”. And what is the commitment of us as Indigenous peoples after this?
*The name Chimalhuacán is Nahuatl for "place of those who have shields.” This is a place where the population made shields for the Aztec warriors and this is a plant that grows and it has strong reeds that do not break so they would weave those together to make the shields.